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Man vs. Nature: Guess who won February 20, 2007

Posted by Matsu in Family, Random.

Saturday, February 17th, I drove to the mountains of Eastern Kentucky (USA) to check on my mountain cabin. As I mentioned in this previous post, it has been well below freezing in central Kentucky and water pipes have begun to freeze. That’s what happened in my home and I feared it might happen at my cabin. So, I made a quick trip to the mountains to make sure all was well. That was a mistake.

While it had snowed some that morning, there could not have been more than half an inch of snow on the ground. So, I was not concerned. The main roads were all clear and easy to drive. But, when I turned off the main road and onto the private drive of the cabin property I noticed that the roads had not been ‘treated’ (salted to help melt any ice and snow) so they were slick, but not too bad. I drove past the small camp office building and my car began to slide. That’s when I realized there might be a problem.

Ahead of me at the bottom of the hill that I was sliding down, were two cars and a full-sized van. All of them slid off the road and were in various unnatural positions. People were standing in the road waving me down, as if I had some control over where my car was going. I was on a curved road that went down hill. My car was not responding to my actions. The brakes did nothing, turning the steering wheel had no affect on the direction of the car. It just slid on it’s own. Of course, I didn’t give up trying to control the car and I ever so carefully glided the car to the left edge of the road (away from the steep cliff) and off the road into the grass, hoping the non-paved area would slow me down enough to keep me from either hitting the people or the cars already off the road. It worked. I thought my car would never come to a stop, but I was going slow enough that the change in terrain caused me to slow down more and keep the car from sliding off the road.

Once stopped, I got word from the stranded drivers that there was a sheet of ice under the snow and that was causing everyone to lose control of their vehicles. They warned me to drive carefully and suggested I move my car before the next guy comes down the hill and hit me. I thought their advice to be sound, and so I gently moved my car forward (now at the bottom of the hill) and tried in vain to go up the next hill. An alternate route presented itself (a gravel road went off to the right – it would still take me to my destination but was a much longer route). I turned right and with some confidence drove slowly across the gravel surface. I had more traction than on the paved surface, so I began to think I was in the clear. Big mistake!

When I got to my first hill going down, I went very slowly over the crest and thought that if I just kept my foot on the brakes I could control the descent. What I did not realize was that part of the road, that particular hill, had been paved so people could more easily drive up and down the steep incline. And, as I had just discovered a few minutes before that, there was a layer of ice under the snow, which made the road more like a skating rink. Did you ever try to drive on a skating rink when it was on a 20 to 30 degree incline? I’m here to tell you it can’t be done; at least not with a conventional car with only front wheel drive.

My car once again was out of control. My brakes would not slow me down and I managed to hook my left wheels off the paved area and onto the shoulder of the road in an attempt to slow me down and keep the car going straight. I didn’t want to drift off the right side of the road where there was a 50-foot slope down to trees (and well away from the road). At the bottom of the small hill the paved road ended and it turned back to a gravel road where I was able to gain traction, again. Fortunately, I was able to bring my car to a stop.

I drove forward slowly, hoping that there were no more paved sections of road ahead. I soon came upon a long paved section that went down hill with a curve and a pond at the bottom. It didn’t take much to imagine what my car would do on that hill and how it would look in the pond, if I decided to continue driving. At that point I thought it would be wiser and safer to turn around and work my way back to the camp office and just park my car there. I could walk the rest of the way to my cabin.

I carefully backed up to a point where I could turn around and very slowly worked my way back. When I reached the bottom of the hill where I lost control during the descent I decided that I should get a ‘running start’ in order to make it to the top. Bad mistake. Halfway up my tires lost traction and I began to slip backwards. Applying the brakes made no difference, I continued to move backwards. Only, the car started to turn while I slid so the back end began to move toward the cliff side of the one-lane road. Turning the steering wheel made no difference. As my car slid, it gained speed. I was absolutely certain my car would not stop until it slid down the side and hit the trees, below. By the grace of God, my car stopped when it reached the gravel part at the bottom of the hill and just short of actually sliding over the cliff. The back wheels were over the edge (but on the ground) and the front wheels were barely on the road.

Without thinking, I jumped out and began to push my car forward as hard as I could. Needless to say, not much happened. No, I did not somehow have super-human strength and didn’t pick up my car. When pushing the car didn’t quite do the trick, I reached in with my right leg and punched the accelerator. At first, nothing happened, but I pushed the car, rocking it so the front wheels would grip the road (it was sort of balancing) and kept pushing the gas pedal and after a couple of minutes (at least it seem like minutes passed) the car began to move forward and finally broke away from the edge with the entire car back on the road, even if it was turned 90 degrees. I was then able to slowly move forward and backward and turn the car back onto the road, facing the right way.

At that point, I was done. I had experienced the total loss the control of my car three times in only about 15 minutes and survived to tell about it. There was no reason to think I could drive any further and if I did continue I knew that the only outcome would be my car at the bottom of a ravine. I also knew that I could not leave my car parked in the middle of the road, because the next person that came over the hill may not be able to control their descent and hit my parked car. Therefore, I drove about 30 yard to a point in the road where I had seen a gravel driveway. I was able to get back there and successfully pulled into the driveway and off the road, safe from any other drivers or snow plows (wishful thinking — there are no snow plows in that area).

I gathered a few of my belongings, including my laptop, and hiked approximately a mile to reach my cabin. Walking on icy roads with several bags is not easy or fun, but I made it safely. At the cabin, I had a 16 oz. pack of bologna and a 12 oz. pack of Kraft cheese singles in the refrigerator. Oh, and I had a can of Vienna sausage. It could have been worse.

There were half a dozen cars that were totaled, or nearly totaled that day. Fortunately, my car was not one of them.

When this adventure began there was less than half an inch of snow on the ground. By the end of the day, Saturday, there was most than 2 inches of snow. Then, on Sunday, another 2 inches of snow fell (which was beautiful to watch) for about 4 inches of snowfall for the weekend. I did hike out to the car on Sunday to check on it and pick up a few personal belongings. The roads were not any better so I knew there was no point in trying to drive, yet.

On Monday it was sunny and the temperature went up above freezing, so the snow and ice began to melt. I still had to chip away the ice left on the hills so my tires could get traction, but eventually I cleared enough to drive out of the area. I arrived home on Monday night after spending three days on my ‘overnight’ trip to the cabin.



1. Ruth - February 21, 2007

Good grief! And people say we live in a dangerous place! Be careful!

2. David Pitts - February 23, 2007

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